Cuckoo Boy Review Snippets

The Guardian, Catherine Taylor

‘Enterprising new publisher To Hell With states its intent with Gillespie’s emotionally visceral debut. The spectre of Lionel Shriver’s Kevin is omnipresent, particularly in the black comedy and ambiguous aspects of the tale. Yet this is a confident, impressive work in its own right. First Novels

The Observer, Mary Fitzgerald

‘Through James and David, Gillespie explores the chasm between how children and adults perceive the world, and the devastating consequences of falling through this gap. The Cuckoo Boy is a savage indictment of hypocrisy and forced social convention.’ Debut Fiction

Irish Examiner Review, Dan MacCarthy

‘With strong parallels to Golding’s Lord of the Flies which demonstrated the savage nature of humanity detached from civilisation, Gillespie’s superb debut avers that such isolation is possible within our own societies and that the consequences can be tragic. In this case, the mob rules.

Inside Books, Simon Quicke

‘Very clever…this book is both relevant and provocative. It might not be comfortable reading but as a way of taking a reader on a journey, which good books should do, into the mind of a unloved and desperate child it delivers.’

Farm Lane Books Blog Review Jackie@ Farm Lane Books Blog

Many episodes are quite chilling. It reminded me of The Fifth Child and classic Gothic ghost stories. It’s especially good for discussions about whether children are born evil or whether it’s the fault of the parents and I was impressed by the way in which the emotions of motherhood were accurately described. It’s gripping and thought provoking, but also contains many of the amusing observations that only young children can get away with. There were so many talking points that I’m sure I could spend hours discussing it – making it a perfect book club choice.’, William Rycroft

‘It would be easy to expect an actor to be good at writing dialogue or creating a narrative voice (in fact most actors are terrible at improvising dialogue that sounds real – never underestimate the skills of the playwright!) but Gillespie deserves genuine credit for what he achieves with all his cast and particularly with James and David.’

The Bookbag, Louise Laurie

‘Fine comic lines throughout. It is a fine piece of writing. Who is right? Who is wrong? A deeply thought-provoking book. Recommended.’, Lynne Hatwell

‘Grant Gillespie is a wizard, an absolute natural at dialogue and inner voice with an omniscient narrator who sifts out all those perceptive angles.’

Forbidden Planet International – Best Books of the Year, Doug Wallace

‘To Hell picked up the amazing Grant Gillespie’s debut. The unique thing about this book is that Gillespie is able to step inside the head of the main character, his mother and his father and make you really feel like he was there.’, William Rycroft

‘Therefore next week I’ll be letting you know my thoughts on the first release on their To Hell With First Novels list: The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie. (to hell with waiting that long to find out whether it’s any good or not though – it’s really good)’, Lynne Hatwell from the first of two articles:

‘A fabulous concoction of emotions and observations, lots of nature versus nurture ponderings and a razor-sharp narrative voice to die for, which all adds up to my first truly un-put-downable new novel of the year to date.’

The Booktrust Review

‘This impressive debut is a parable that deconstructs the ‘perfect-family’ model with eerie tension. The spirit of Gillespie’s novel lies in penetrating suburban conformities. Through a mixture of pathos, humour and sparse prose, he deconstructs the model family with care, wrestling with weighty topics like nature over nurture.’

Evie Wyld, author of After the Fire, A Still Small Voice and All The Birds Singing:

‘A dark and elegant story of childhood, The Cuckoo Boy is horrifying and disarmingly funny. A book to keep you awake at night.’

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The Memory Store interview with Robin Yapp

Grant Gillespie recalls being gripped by Animal Farm on Spanish childhood holiday – and almost missing the meeting that changed his life.

Posted 2014 by Robin Yapp


Grant Gillespie is a novelist, screenwriter and actor. His debut novel, The Cuckoo Boy, was published in 2010. Here, he recalls his father reading Orwell to him on a family holiday and arriving late – and unwashed –  to the meeting that changed his life.

GGillespieJPG-e1417294525921-212x300Animal Farm by George Orwell

“The first book that really knocked my school socks off was Animal Farm. I know that makes me sound preposterously precocious, but in my defence, strictly speaking I didn’t read it. It was my father who read it to me.

“The memory is very vivid… I was between eight and 10 and my mother, father and I were in Spain – we spent most of my school holidays there because my parents spoke the language and loved the culture. Every day, they’d insist that if I was to be permitted to stay up late then I had to take an afternoon siesta.

“Naturally, I resented this with every atom of my being as the sun was still shining and all the other children seemed to be free to splash about in the sea unfettered, but that was ‘the rule’. In order to settle me off to sleep, my father would read to me and, that particular year, the book on hand was George Orwell’s classic.

“From the moment it began, I was gripped. I remember laughing heartily when the pigeons crapped on the farmers’ heads (though my father had to explain ‘shat’ to me) and weeping when poor Boxer worked until he collapsed and was sent away for slaughter (my father also had to explain ‘knacker’s yard’).

“Of course, all the Political – with a capital P nuances were lost on me, but I had already begun to grasp hierarchical politics – after all, I’d been forced to my bed by my overlord parents. Perhaps it would be true to say that it was from Animal Farm, read to me piecemeal, pre-siesta on a Spanish coast, that I learnt all about ‘nature, red in tooth and claw’. It’s certainly always been a recurrent theme in my own writing and especially in my novel The Cuckoo Boy.“

“Someone once said to me, ‘write three novels and the third one will get published’. I didn’t believe them. I didn’t want to believe them. I knew all I had to do was write one novel. It would then be ripped from my hands by Bloomsbury, Faber or Penguin and delivered up to the eagerly awaiting hands of an erudite, international elite readership.

“While at university, I began what turned out to be a profoundly pretentious novel. Then, on graduating, I wrote a profoundly superficial novel. I followed these with my third novel, The Cuckoo Boy, and that’s the one that was published.

“A publisher, Lucy Owen, invited me to meet her for a coffee. I knew that the publishing house created journals and I assumed Lucy was going to ask me to contribute to one of them in the form of a short story. There was some muddle over what time we were to meet – my fault, of course.

“When I received a call from Lucy saying, ‘Hi, are you lost?’ I had to reply, ‘Not at all, I’m in bed.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, without any discernible judgement, ‘it’s just we were meant to meet an hour ago…’

“Without even contemplating washing, I threw on a crumpled velvet jacket, and half-ran (I never fully run) to Bloomsbury, while licking my hand and trying to flatten my hedge-backwards hair. Lucy was very magnanimous. She told me to ‘breathe’ and ordered me a coffee. I asked if I could breathe outside for a moment – through a cigarette – and she said I could.

“When I finally sat down, Lucy said the unexpected words: ‘I hope you don’t mind but someone passed us your novel and we’d like to publish it.’ Without exaggeration, I practically fell from my chair. I then immediately asked if I could have another cigarette, a wish I was granted. As I paced Woburn Walk, I was dizzy with nicotine and excitement in equal measures.

“It was a real ‘this never happens to me, but it has happened to me’ moment and I’ll never forget it. The months that followed were a dream literally – and literarily – come true. I held the book in my hands, just for a few seconds, the first time, but I was nearly sick in my mouth with joy.

“I had a fabulous launch party where I read alongside my heroes Hanif Kureishi and DBC Pierre. I saw my book in Waterstones, but didn’t linger because it would have felt too pompous. Then I had a flurry of amazing reviews.

“Of course, when the party dies down, you’re left thinking ‘that was it, that was the book, I’ll never be able to write again, I’m a one-trick, one-hit-wonder-pony.’ Then of course that dies down too and you sit down, stare out of the window and start novel number two (aka number four).”

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Vivek Tejuja (@vivekisms) Reviews The Cuckoo Boy


Title: The Cuckoo Boy
Author: Grant Gillespie
Publisher: To Hell with Publishing
ISBN: 9780955460944
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin of The Novel Cure
Rating: 5/5

I had heard of “The Cuckoo Boy” by Grant Gillespie through The Novel Cure and it was a part of my reading challenge – The Novel Cure Reading Challenge. It is a cure for adoption and yet somewhere down the line, there is to more to the book than what meets the eye.

It is a story of a dysfunctional couple – Sandra and Kenneth adopting Baby James and how their world spins out of control thereon. There is an imaginary friend David, who enters the scene and very soon there is a real friend David who also enters the picture, thus making the book and the plot, slightly chillier. The book is seen through the eyes of James and his parents. The emotional expectations are almost the centrepiece of this novel. It is about worlds colliding – the real and the imaginary, which makes the book what it is – juicier and scarier.

There are moments in the book, when you look back on your shoulder to see if there is anything going on at all. Grant does not give all the answers to readers. He makes them hang to turn the pages and find out more. It is also in so many ways a whodunit, given the situations and the revenge exacting nature of James. The book is tricky – one starts to wonder if the parents are wrong or the child is wrong, till the puzzle fits itself.

The story is tight and yet sometimes loses out on the overall communication of the plot. Having said that, I would still give it a five, because of the sheer force of writing. The dread surrounding the book is eerie and the atmosphere is only full of macabre. A read for a dark winter’s night, because this is exactly the kind of book you want to take to bed.

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Forbidden Planet International – Best Books of the Year 2010, by Doug Wallace



The Cuckoo Boy – Grant Gillespie (To Hell With Books)

This book is from one of my favourite publishers of the year, To Hell With Books. They are a small press that is based quite near SMH HQ in Euston and they picked up the amazing Grant Gillespie’s debut and did well with it. It is another ‘disturbed childhood’ book. The unique thing about this book is that Gillespie is able to step inside the head of the main character, his mother and his father and make you really feel like he was there. It is almost as if it was his childhood that went so badly wrong. It is a story of ‘kids being cruel’, parental love gone wrong and a few deaths.


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Irish Examiner Review of The Cuckoo Boy by Dan MacCarthy

Irish Examiner

The Cuckoo Boy

Review: Dan MacCarthy


Grant Gillespie
To Hell With First Novels; €9.70

FICTION has always held up the mob as an example of corrupt society. Over the centuries novels such as Tobias Smollet’s The Expedition of Humphry Clinker on to Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and on again to Cormac McCarthy have counter-pointed the amorphous mass with a protagonist who sees things differently.

Gillespie’s debut novel from this quirky publisher relates the extraordinary story of an adopted boy, James, who ends up facing such a mob. His adopted parents, Sandra and Kenneth, bring James into their life at a very young age. But things are terribly wrong from the outset and get complicated when the toddler develops an imaginary friend, David. Nothing too worrying here as many children have these semi- spectral buddies. But James’ is ever-present, almost a projection of another personality. David is wilful and bold where James is careful and needy. This imagined friend stays with James as he grows past puberty.
Meanwhile, Sandra and Kenneth discover to their astonishment that she is pregnant, having thought she was infertile. Mother dotes over the new child; she is everything James isn’t, and she is really ‘hers’. A nightmare ensues with the death of the baby, with James, of course, implicated. Another death follows as the boy’s grandfather chokes on a fish bone. David stands by, watching him die.

David develops friendships with some local children and forms a gang. However, when he is pushed into a pit of rotting pig carcasses he takes horrific revenge torturing one boy to death.

With strong parallels to Golding’s Lord of the Flies which demonstrated the savage nature of humanity detached from civilisation, Gillespie’s superb debut avers that such isolation is possible within our own societies and that the consequences can be tragic. In this case, the mob rules.

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, September 18, 2010

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My Pretend Friend by Dr Karen Majors

My publisher Lucy Owen at To Hell With e-mailed me this excellent piece (by Dr. Karen Majors – Community Psychology Service, Barking and Dagenham) about imaginary friends, as I had one myself and the subject features heavily in The Cuckoo Boy.

If you had a ‘pretend friend’ too, then she’s looking for people to fill in a questionnaire…

“It used to be thought that children with imaginary friends were in the minority. It has sometimes been assumed that children had imaginary friends because they were lonely and lacked real friends.

Perhaps this is why some parents and others may show concern when a child has an imaginary friend, particularly once they have started school, and older children and adolescents tend to keep their imaginary friends a secret.

Imaginary companions or friends have certainly been a misunderstood phenomenon. There has been surprisingly little research about imaginary friends.

Consequently there has been little information about how many children have imaginary friends, what the imaginary friends are like and why children have them.

Recent research has been providing some surprising answers to some of these questions. Firstly, there is now clear evidence that imaginary friends are a common feature in childhood development.

It is now recognised that imaginary friends are often part of normal development.

A good example comes from the United States, where pre-school children and their parents took part in a 2004 study looking at different aspects of development, including imaginary companions.

The children were then followed up after starting school, when they were aged seven years. The researchers were very surprised to find that 65% of children up to age seven currently or previously had had imaginary friends.

Like other research, imaginary friends which were based on a special toy were included. In a study in the United Kingdom, 1,800 children completed a questionnaire about imaginary friends. Forty six per cent of them reported past or current imaginary friends, including nine per cent of 12-year-olds.

Positive feature

There is a need for more research about which children have imaginary friends and why they have them. We do know that children with imaginary friends are not a homogeneous group.

Certainly, it is now recognised that imaginary friends are often part of normal development. Young children with imaginary friends are often described as sociable, imaginative children who love stories and pretend play. They enjoy playing with friends and at times when friends are not available, they call on their imaginary friends for entertainment.

Children also call on their imaginary friends when they feel upset about something that has happened or about what some one has said to them.

Little girl playing on a pebble beach

One report indicated that nearly half of UK children have had imaginary friends

Some children will talk to their friend about the problem, others will play with their imaginary friend, which takes their mind off the problem and the unhappy feelings disappear. We also know that some children who have endured traumatic life events may also draw on their imaginary companions for support.

The imaginary friends of older children and adolescents are a much more private affair. Often unknown to parents and others, although a best friend might know about their existence. Older children are aware that parents, friends and others may show disapproval.

As part of my research I interviewed school aged children aged five to eleven years and the parents of the younger children. All the children said that their imaginary friends were important and why they were special to them. I have concluded that imaginary friends are often a very positive feature in a child’s life.

They provide fun, entertainment, adventures and games. They are often good, kind and helpful friends, good at listening and always available. Some imaginary friends are not always co-operative or friendly, this however seems to make them more real and interesting to the child and sometimes helps them to express their feelings when there has been a problem.

This was a small study and we do need more research.

If you are a parent of a child with imaginary friends, or if you are an adult who can remember your imaginary friends, and would like to participate, please email me for a questionnaire at .”



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Peckham Literary Festival

Tibor’s Favourites

Book Now

Peckham Literary Festival on Saturday 20th November – 19:30PM at the Review Bookshop

Come and spend and evening with Tibor Fischer, author of cult novels Under The Frog and The Thought Gang, and the short story collection Don’t Read This Book if You’re Stupid. Tibor will read some of his favourite passages from his work.

Acting as Tibor’s sidekick, first-time novelist and very likely Tibor’s biggest fan, Grant Gillespie, will be making an appearance.

This is a welcome return to the Festival by Tibor who read from his new novel Good to Be God in our 2008 line-up. Under The Frog, his first novel, was shortlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize. Of Good to Be God, the Catholic Herald said it “is funny and true and (not merely because it’s set in Miami) Fischer’s sunniest novel to date” and The Times, “Fischer at his sharpest – a widely original feelbad philosophical hayride”.

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